by Frank Wenceslao
My Pamusa colleagues and I were alarmed by Nene Pimentel’s and Alan Peter Cayetano’s reaction to the Senate committee of the whole finding Manny Villar to have engaged in improper and unethical conduct as though they give more weight to procedure than the evidence adduced from the investigation.
Being lawyers, such attitude keeps the Philippines locked on a slippery slope and pushed by cavalier regard for the rule of law to continue rapid deterioration until a disaster drives the country into chaos and ungovernable like Haiti.
The Senate found Villar the proponent of the C-5 extension and another major project, the eight-lane Daang Hari linking Cavite to Laguna through Las Piñas and Bacoor. Instead of a straight alignment as sound engineering requires, the road projects “snake” through Villar-owned or controlled corporations (VOCCs) to provide ingress and egress for their 23 subdivisions.
Villar evidently pressured Dept. of Public Works and Higways (DPWH) officials to discard previous feasibility study, engineering design and plans including their cost likely funded from official development assistance (ODA). It behooves every objective Filipino to ask therefore if the Senate broadened its inquiry to include the resources lost and new funds needed specially appropriated for the change of plans that are unlawful and immoral act Villar is criminally liable.
Moreover, the alignment of the C-5 segment of the Manila-Cavite Toll Expressway Project was changed by the Toll Regulatory Board to conform to the revised plans for two road projects, which meant additional costs that could’ve been better used for some other budgetary needs.
VOCCs’ properties that are traversed by the C-5 extension and Daang Hari road projects got zonal valuation higher than previously given to their location which again resulted from pressuring the concerned bureaucrats in order to jack up the ROW prices paid to VOCCs.
Will the justice system under GMA continue with Villar if he wins the presidency to govern worse than her administration? How could Villar address graft and corruption when like GMA he’d be among the first to be targeted for prosecution?
The Senate report only recommended the return and restitution by Villar to the Philippine Treasury of the money or pecuniary advantage “he has or his companies have illegally gained or obtained as a result of unlawful acts and improper and unethical conduct” instead of forwarding the evidence and recommending to the Ombudsman to file criminal action.
The losses are P4.28 billion for the C-5 extension project, P1.8 billion original project cost that was wasted and P141.1 million for overpriced ROW payments to VOCCs tantamount to technical malversation. The report was released before Congress took its holiday break last month to get the signature of senators. It needs the signature of the majority of senators or 12 for it to be reported out in the plenary as though not signing it will absolve Villar of criminal liability.
Clearly, Villar while Senate President and finance committee chairman during the time his unlawful actions were taken didn’t only violate the Constitution and the Code of Conduct of Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (RA 6713) but, more so, Sec. 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (RA 3019). The senators swept the latter under the rug which provides that in addition to acts or omissions of public officers already penalized by existing law, the following shall constitute corrupt practices and therefore criminally actionable, to wit:
“(e) Causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence. x x x x x x x x.” (Underscoring mine).
Villar acted unlawfully using his government positions to pressure DPWH officials to do his bidding making them co-conspirators when they agreed that the C-5 extension be realigned contrary to sound engineering practice to “snake” through and provide ingress and egress to at least 23 subdivisions of VOCCs that yielded Villar “unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference,” to wit:
1. Income for ROWs at jacked-up prices and payment contrary to a policy of prorating annual appropriations according to the age of an account; hence, VOCCs shouldn’t have been paid ahead of others waiting for payment years before ROWs were expropriated from their properties.
2. Aside the higher prices at inflated zonal valuation paid for ROWs expropriated from their properties, VOCCs were given unwarranted benefits in the rise of market prices of the houses and lots, vacant properties still to be developed, their collateral values and VOCCs’ borrowing capacity with government-owned or controlled corporations (GOCCs) such as PAG-IBIG, National Home Mortgage Finance Corporation (NHMFC), SSS, GSIS and others. All of which is detrimental to home buyers since it’s the government that enabled VOCCs to earn additional profits earned without adding a centavo of equity.
3. VOCCs became the country’s biggest group of companies engaged in real estate development. In an interview by a reporter Mrs. Cynthia Villar unabashedly claimed the group starting virtually from scratch has built 200,000 housing units across all income classes.
The Villars have always prided in their rags-to-riches story. It’s thus logical to conclude their PhP43 billion ($940M) net worth as of 2008 is ill-gotten and beyond statistical probability that came from what the US Justice Department considers “a process or series of actions through which income of illegal origin is concealed, disguised, or made to appear legitimate (main objective); and to evade detection, prosecution, seizure, and taxation” practiced by the Mafia, international drug traffickers, terrorist financiers, and corrupt government officials.
The investigation of the Senate began in June 2009 based on the allegations of Senators Panfilo Lacson and Jamby Madrigal that Villar inserted “earmarks” of doubling the P200-million funding for the C-5 extension project in the 2008 national budget and pressuring DPWH officials to change its alignment to benefit VOCCs. The Senate concluded Villar violated Sections 12 and 14, Article VI of the Constitution by failing to notify the Senate of a “potential conflict of interest” when he proposed an amendment to the 2008 national budget by appropriating P400 million … for a project that would benefit his corporations and which amount may be used to pay the claims of his corporations for unpaid road right-of-way compensation” (Sec. 12) and for intervening in the project with the DPWH for his “pecuniary benefit.” (Sec. 14).
It’s as though the Senate wanted Villar’s culpability limited on ethical grounds and swept under the rug the crimes Villar probably committed inferred from the report. The truth of the matter is Joker Arroyo already leveled similar charges against Villar when they’re members of the House of Representatives from 1992-98 for violating the Constitution and RA 6713, which I’ve modified, paraphrased and updated in parts, as follows:
Charge I. Villar’s low cost housing development business has been totally dependent on GOCCs and government financial institutions (GFIs). VOCCs were given accommodations by GOCCs and GFIs while Villar’s a House member and had stint as Speaker from 1992-1998 for financing their housing projects.
Charge II. From 1992-98 Villar didn’t divest himself of his holdings or severed interest in VOCCs that eventually became a housing conglomerate, Vista Land & Lifescapes Inc. whose subsidiaries have been renamed: Brittany Corporation, Camella Homes, Crown Asia and Camella Communities.
When Villar was a House member, then senator he didn’t sever his interests either in VOCCs and their successors when they continued to be granted loans and financial accommodations by GOCCs and GFIs. Villar violated the Constitution and RA No. 6713 because the latter specifically requires, as follows:
“Divestment – A public official or employee should avoid conflicts of interest at all times. When a conflict of interest arises, he shall resign from his position in any private business enterprise within thirty (30) days from his assumption of office and/or divest himself of his shareholdings or interest within sixty (60) days from such assumption.” (Underscoring mine).
Charge III. Villar during his tenure in the House and Senate to the present hasn’t divested interests in VOCCs. While Speaker, Villar arrogantly declared he’s in no hurry to divest because he’s under no obligation to do so – a continuing violation. He should’ve fired his lawyer then.
Charge IV. Villar controls Capitol Bank where Mrs. Villar is the CEO while a House member. Capitol received loans, financial accommodations and guarantees from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas from 1992-98. The husband and wife were members of Congress in 2004 when Capitol had a bank run and obtained BSP loan. That’s constitutionally forbidden.
Paraphrasing Arroyo, the constitutional prohibition is simple. If a member of the House, namely: Villar or wife has controlling interest in a private firm or business entity, it can’t be extended a loan, guaranty or any financial accommodation for any business purpose by GOCCs or GFIs unless both have first divested of personal interest in the firm.
Surprisingly, the Senate report alluded only to Villar’s violation of the conflict-of-interest rule (RA 6713) by not divesting himself of his interests in VOCCs with contracts with the DPWH for ROW acquisition. The report found Villar had significant stockholdings in VOCCs that benefited from ROW payments on top of diverting said road projects to “snake” through their subdivisions to provide ingress and egress.
IN CONCLUSION, probable cause exists that the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Anti-Plunder Law (RA 7080) have been violated by Villar et al. Surely, Mr. and Mrs. Villar’s pecuniary benefits derived from abovementioned unlawful acts contributed to the growth of their PhP43 billion ($940M) net worth.
The Senate report somehow tried to mitigate Villar’s criminal acts by saying he hadn’t directly participated in overpricing his properties as though the Senate’s oversupply of lawyers wasn’t sufficient to conclude that ignorance isn’t an excuse in violating the law.
If there should be restitution, therefore, the Senate should vote to expel Villar forthwith; demand that the Ombudsman file the complaint for the violation of the anti-graft and anti-plunder laws and let the chips where they may; and seek a restraining order or preliminary injunction for the Court to temporarily sequester the Villars’ assets and prevent the transfer to other parties of potentially forfeitable property to the state.
Moreover, it should be unmistakably clear for Villar to withdraw his candidacy for the presidency because no way the Filipino people will consider him trustworthy to occupy the highest government position or any public office.
Norwalk, CA – 01/18/10